Deer Clan Origin Myth

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

The Deer Clan (Ca Hik'ik'árajera) is a small clan of the Lower or Earth Moiety that is strongly allied to the Elk Clan, with whom they have a friendship relation. It is said that "the Deer clan's responsibilities concerned the environment and weather."1 Deer clansmen participate in the spiritual nature of the deer. Since the four limbs of the deer have a mystical unity with the cardinal points, if a Deer clansmen moves his limbs suddenly, he may cause a human being to die. Weeping loudly can have the same effect as well as summoning forth gale force winds. For similar reasons, they must be careful not to sing the clan song too loudly.2 It goes like this:

I use the cries of the four directions,
I use the cries of the four directions;
I use the cries of the four directions,
I use the cries of the four directions.

The following are some of the names given to members of the Deer Clan:

Caconiwįga First Deer Woman
Cájišgácga They Play with the Wind
Canųkšąpįwįga Deer Vagina
Casep-hųka Black Deer Chief
Casépga Black Deer, Moose (F)
Casgága White Deer (F)
Hakjáguga He Who Comes Back3
Hakjagúwįga She Who Comes Back
Héwažápga Horn with the Fuzz Rubbed Off (F)
Mąk'isagaǧepga Appears in the Middle of the Earth
Manąksųjega He Who Shakes the Earth
Naį́sawarujka She Who Eats the Top of the Tree
Rek'uhumaniwįga She Who Goes with the Wind
Rek'uhuskažiga He Who Plays with the Wind
Wacóžjumanįga Walking Leader
Wagizenąpįga Wears Shells around the Neck
[-] He Who Appears First
[-] He Who Returns

The dead are painted with the same colors and pattern as those of the Elk Clan.4

BAE 37: 248
The Funereal Face Paint
of the Deer Clan

There are two versions of the clan myth.

Version 1

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

(1) This is the life of the Deer Clan. The black deer and the elk with him, where the center of the earth is, there they appeared. And they went to the east side. There they were going. Then the black deer said, "My dear younger brother, I am heavy in flesh. Go on alone — here is where I will remain," he said. He did not go there. And he went back to the center of the earth whence they started. He came back. (2) Again they asked him four times. Again, indeed, they did it. There the black deer recognized the money necklace. So the Deer Clan was beaten. So he called himself "Black Deer Chief." And going back, they went again. Likewise, he recognized the money necklace himself. They went around the earth. And again under the black deer they went east. The big one went first. As they went, this one wondered where they started from. (3) Again they came back there. "My brother, you yourself try to do something," he said. So Hena (the second born) he went first himself. They set out. Again they went. They came back there. "My brother, you yourself try to do something," he said. And so Haga went first. They had come back again. And they told Naǧiga to go first. He suddenly came to the fore. When he hit the right side of his horn on the earth, there he made an herb appear. When he did it, the flower was very white. (4) Again when he struck the earth with the left side horn, he generated a tree there. And the stem of the herb is meant for eating, for that he made it. And again they ate the fruit of the tree. There they ate from the top of the tree. And so they said that they would call the name of one of the women by the name "She who Eats from the Top of the Tree." And when they went walking they made the earth tremble, it is said. They went to the east side. And so they said that they would name a man "Shakes the Earth," they said. (5) And if there were some brothers, they would call the smallest, "Walking Leader," they would call him. And again among the women one came to be called, "She who Comes Back." Again the men would call him, "He who Comes Back."

In the beginning, they went back there again. This is the reason on account of which they say that whatever movements they did, from these they got their names. The names for however they lived, they called themselves by the name. And they lived in control of the cardinal winds. And so if on a very nice day a voice should be heard, (6) the day would be transformed into a bad day. Again, it being a bad day, hearing the voice will transform into a very nice day. And so the Deer Clan people have control over the day. And so they call themselves with the name, "They Play with the Wind," they would call them. Also they say, "Going with the Wind Woman," they say. Where deer would situate themselves as they go, going with the wind, they would situate themselves, and so they say that.

Not anywhere on the earth did they miss. (7) There they came home. The big one collapsed. And they said, "What has happened?" they said. Then Hena said, "My younger brother, not at anytime did he say something." Then he said, "I don't know a thing." Nąǧi alone spoke and said, "My dear older brothers, our older brother has died. Thus did Earthmaker do it that way." And he talked to the dead one, saying to him, "In the first place, my older brother, the Creator made for you, this first one, a place of safety. That he did. (8) You have not obtained a large portion of life. You made those of us above the ground poor. And what I am going to ask you is this: that you'll leave behind the life that you missed above ground, that we ask of you. With that life, let us live. What you have left off, that is what I mean. And this is the second request: the wars which you did not handle, all the honors that you would have earned, here above ground we will handle. (9) O elder brother, I ask of you what you have done. And the third request is this: all the food that you missed with your mouth, all the tree fruit, all the sweet food there is that you would have eaten, these that you missed and left behind when you went, again these we wish to get a hold of. These that you missed when you went, I ask for. These things we will be using. And this is the fourth request, O elder brother: all the good things that people wear, everything that you put in the back of the lodge, (10) these you should not touch, as we who are left behind on earth will be using them." He asked that he do it. "And wherever you are going, there the really good things we who are left behind on earth request that we may take hold of; for this we are petitioning for ourselves." And he took red paint and said, "My brother, I am going to paint you. They will recognize you at home, for this is the way we are. Hereafter, all those men who are to live after, (11) they also will all be doing like this. The story (worak) will be that he did the painting in just this way," he said. And he blackened his forehead with charcoal, and they streaked the corners of his eyes with red, and the chin and front of the throat he made red. And they dug a grave. There they buried him. And he prepared a song. He finished singing and they buried him.

And they traveled around the earth. (12) And where the clans gathered, there they came. They were people. And so they called them the "Deer Clan." Their own life they lived the way deer did. Where they started from, thus were the names of the Deer Clan. How they derived those names was from whatever habits the deer have. Again, what you see in them, it is in this way that they have their names. They say the name "White Hair." Also they say "Fast One." It is said that deer have short white hair. Again it is said because they are fast. (13) They say "Shy One." It is said that deer are shy. They also say, "Pronged Horn." It is said that the horns are pronged. Dog names, that kind they are. And so it is said that this is the way of the Deer Clan. When they said it, in this way so they lived at Red Banks on Within Lake (Green Bay). There the clans gathered together, there were all the different clans, there where they first began. This is the end.5

Version 2

When the earth was new just one deer emerged from it, but he returned below in search of a companion. Thus there are two names in the Deer Clan, "He Who Appears First," and "He Who Returns." When the deer came to earth they encountered the first fireplace, but it only contained smoldering embers .So they blew upon it until it blazed. Thus the Deer Clan, it is said, has a partial chieftainship. The first to appear on earth wore the chief's medallion.6

Commentary. "black deer" — this is the moose.

"the center of the earth" — those who are at the center and who control the four quarters, control everything and therefore have a claim to the chieftainship. This is also reflected in the "money necklace" (see below). The myths associate the Deer Clan with chieftainship by having its founders involve themselves uniquely with four analogues to it: being first, being at the center, recognizing the emblem of the chief, and creating the first fire. The fire is associated with centrality because the fireplace was located in the center of the lodge. The Deer Clan tries to establish control over the fire through its command of both the center and the winds. What we see of the strong ideology of political primacy of the Deer Clan may be a vestige of a time when the Deer Clan was part of the Elk Clan and this Deer-Elk Clan held the chieftainship. In the story of the Origin of the Hocąk Chief, the Elk Clan is said to have formerly held the position of chief.

"the east" — this is the cardinal point of beginnings, and is the place where most ritual circuits (such as that of the Medicine Rite) begin.

"money necklace" — it was a set of medallions issued to chiefs by the United States government (see the Chief's Medallion). Prior to white contact, they were made of wampum, that is to say shells, as witnessed by the clan name "Wears Shells Around the Neck."3

so the Deer Clan was beaten — Radin remarks at the top of the interlinear page: "He beat him because he came on the necklace first." What seem to us as chance encounters entailing no entitlement whatever, are viewed from a religious perspective as having a hidden purpose. There are no coincidences. Everything happens by a hidden design. This means that it was no accident that the black deer happened upon the money necklace first; indeed it was destiny. In this clearly lies his entitlement to all the necklace entails.

again they came back there — Radin comments at the top of the interlinear page: "Some power was always drawing them back to the place whence they had started."

"voice" — the voice is often associated with the four quarters, since sound emanates from its source in every direction. Since sound expresses part of the nature of the four (or rather six) directions, it is often symbolized by its receptor, the ear. It follows, therefore, that the origin point of the sound and its organ, will stand for the Center. These are the voice and the lungs. Since loud singing (about the four quarters in particular) is a kind of wind at the center, the cardinal points answer in kind with strong, howling winds directed at the center. (For more on the theory of the center and the four quarters, see Redhorn and Redhorn's Father.)

"going with the wind" — in avoiding predators, this would place deer downwind and therefore incapable of being scented. That knowledge of winds that deer seem to possess may be part of the reason why they are thought to control them.

"died" — this account of the introduction of death into the world models a very similar account of the Thunderbird Clan, save that the latter claim to have been the first to which this happened. The Deer Clan often advances myths that could challenge the primacy of the Thunderbird Clan should the Deer Clan have the sovereign power come into their own hands.

"he talked to the dead one" — it is part of the Four Slumbers ritual that those who have died are given instructions on how to proceed to the next world during their wake. This story stresses the favors that are asked of those who died before their allotted time, and therefore had things coming to them which they were not able to receive.

"paint" — the dead of each clan had their faces painted in a way unique to their clan. What follows is at least one of the ways in which a member of the clan could be painted.

"the first fireplace" — the chief clan, the Thunderbird Clan, claims in its foundation myth to have started the first fire, an ability that served as grounds for its entitlement to chieftainship.

"they blew upon it" — the Deer Clan has control over the winds, and air is a necessity for combustion. So the Deer Clan can make the claim that they made a necessary contribution to starting the first fire.

"a partial chieftainship" — because the Deer Clan made a necessary contribution to starting the Fire of Sovereignty, they can claim some (obscure) share of that sovereignty.

"the first to appear" — this, along with the commemorative name, "He Who Appears First," suggest that of all the clan progenitors, the deer was the first to appear on earth. Primary in time (being the original) is usually identified with primacy in space, that is, the governance of territory. Being the first is to be at the top of the hierarchy. Nevertheless, the Deer Clan is not part of the tribal leadership. Some of the things asserted in the Deer Clan Origin Myth suggest that the clan may once have been the chief clan. The evocation of "partial" chieftainship recalls the existence of dual chieftainship among other Siouan tribes. The claim of being first indicates that the Deer Clan may once have been the first among the clans in power. The stress upon cyclical return, seems to be in part a claim of returning in the future to sovereignty that it once enjoyed in the past. Claims to sovereignty are reinforced by assertions of Centrality and command over aspects of the four quarters. Is all of this a remembrance of things past, or is it an attempt to place the Deer Clan in the proper ideological position to catch sovereignty should it slip from the grasp of the Thunder Clan? Perhaps, given the belief in the cyclical nature of things, it is both at once.

Comparative Material. The Oto separated from the Hocągara ca. 1500. The Oto have the Elk as the one who starts the first fire, not the Thunderbirds. "The spirit made his revelation to an Elk, who volunteered to show the others how they might prepare food. When they had all gathered around Elk, he made for himself a drill which he twirled rapidly between his palms until a thin spiral of smoke was given off. Elk twirled his stick again, and a red ember appeared. He blew the ember into some tinder, and so made fire. Then an animal was roasted and they learned how to cook food. Elk is the maker and keeper of the sacred fire."7

Links: Deer Spirits, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, The Creation Council, The Cardinal Points, Earthmaker, Redhorn, Sons of Redhorn, Elk.

Stories: featuring deer as characters: A Deer Story, Little Fox and the Ghost, Porcupine and His Brothers, Wolves and Humans, The Green Man, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Trickster's Tail, Fireman's Brother, cf. The Race for the Chief's Daughter; about the origins of the Hocąk clans: Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Story of the Thunder Names, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, The Elk Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins, Fish Clan Origins; about the Creation Council: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Tobacco Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Origin of the Winnebago Chief, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins; about entitlement to chieftainship: Origin of the Hocąk Chief, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, Pigeon Clan Origins, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Snake Clan Origins; mentioning elks: Elk Clan Origin Myth, The Animal who would Eat Men (v. 1), The Elk's Skull, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Creation Council, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, Little Fox and the Ghost (v. 2), The Great Fish; See The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits; mentioning Earthmaker: The Creation of the World, The Creation of Man, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Lost Blanket, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The First Snakes, Tobacco Origin Myth, The Creation Council, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Seven Maidens, The Descent of the Drum, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, The Spider's Eyes, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Fourth Universe, Šųgepaga, The Fatal House, The Twin Sisters, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, The Masaxe War, The Two Children, Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Gift of Shooting, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Stone Heart, The Wild Rose, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Lame Friend, How the Hills and Valleys were Formed, The Hocąk Migration Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, The War among the Animals, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, Blue Mounds, Lost Lake, The Hocągara Migrate South, The Spirit of Gambling, Turtle and the Giant, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Hocągara Contest the Giants, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Bird Origin Myth, Black and White Moons, Redhorn's Sons, Holy Song, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Death Enters the World, Man and His Three Dogs, Trickster Concludes His Mission, Story of the Thunder Names, The Origins of the Milky Way, Trickster and the Dancers, Ghost Dance Origin Myth I, East Enters the Medicine Lodge, The Creation of Evil, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Song to Earthmaker, The Blessing of the Bow, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Origin of the Cliff Swallow; in which the cardinal points are significant: Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), The Story of the Medicine Rite; set at Red Banks (Mógašúc): The Creation Council, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Great Lodge, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2, 3, 5), Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2a, 3, 8, 11, 12), The Winnebago Fort, The Beginning of the Winnebago, Blue Bear, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, The Hocąk Arrival Myth, The Creation of Man (v. 10), Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins (fr. 1), Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Elk Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Šųgepaga, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e ("St. Peet," "Hocąk Origins"), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), The Seven Maidens, First Contact, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath; set at Green Bay, "Within Lake" (Te Rok): Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 2, 3), Story of the Thunder Names, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 4), The Seven Maidens, Ioway & Missouria Origins, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Great Walker's Warpath, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I (v. 2), The Fox-Hocąk War (v. 2), The Creation Council, First Contact, Gatschet's Hocank hit’e.

Themes:clan names arise from incidents attendant upon the founding of the clan by its Animal Spirit progenitors: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Story of the Thunder Names, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth, vv. 2a, 4, 7, Wolf Clan Origin Myth, vv. 1, 4, Snake Clan Origins; red as a symbolic color: The Journey to Spiritland (hill, willows, reeds, smoke, stones, haze), The Gottschall Head (mouth), The Chief of the Heroka (clouds, side of Forked Man), The Red Man (face, sky, body, hill), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse (neck, nose, painted stone), Redhorn's Father (leggings, stone sphere, hair), The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father (hair, body paint, arrows), Wears White Feather on His Head (man), The Birth of the Twins (turkey bladder headdresses), The Two Boys (elk bladder headdresses), Trickster and the Mothers (sky), Rich Man, Boy, and Horse (sky), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits (Buffalo Spirit), Bluehorn Rescues His Sister (buffalo head), Wazųka (buffalo head headdress), The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth (horn), The Brown Squirrel (protruding horn), Bear Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Hawk Clan Origin Myth (funerary paint), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (stick at grave), Pigeon Clan Origins (Thunderbird lightning), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks (eyes), Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp (scalp, woman's hair), The Race for the Chief's Daughter (hair), The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (hair), Redhorn Contests the Giants (hair), Redhorn's Sons (hair), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (hair), A Wife for Knowledge (hair), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (hair), The Hocągara Contest the Giants (hair of Giantess), A Man and His Three Dogs (wolf hair), The Red Feather (plumage), The Man who was Blessed by the Sun (body of Sun), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (body of the Warrior Clan Chief), Red Bear, Eagle Clan Origin Myth (eagle), The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (Waterspirit armpits), The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty (Waterspirits), The Roaster (body paint), The Man who Defied Disease Giver (red spot on forehead), The Wild Rose (rose), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (warclub), Įcorúšika and His Brothers (ax & packing strap), Hare Kills Flint (flint), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head (edges of flint knives), The Nannyberry Picker (leggings), The Seduction of Redhorn's Son (cloth), Yųgiwi (blanket); having the power to control the winds and/or the weather: Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 1, 5), Blue Bear, The Gray Wolf Origin Myth, The Chief of the Heroka, East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), East Shakes the Messenger, South Seizes the Messenger, The Dipper; death enters the world for the first time: Holy One and His Brother, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Death Enters the World; having a role in starting the first fire: Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 2); a medallion necklace is symbolic of chieftainship: Moiety Origin Myth; traveling over the whole earth: The Pointing Man, Trickster and the Dancers, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Death Enters the World, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Twins Cycle, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers, Bluehorn's Nephews.

Songs. Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 2), Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 3), Buffalo Dance Songs, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Returning, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Starting Out, Clan Song, Bear Clan, Song of the Youngest, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, The Four Songs of Hojanoka, Clan Songs—Deer Clan, Clan Songs—Wolf Clan, Clan Songs—Wonáǧire Wąkšik Clan, The Crawfish's Song, Duck Song, Farewell Songs, The Four Services Songs, Grandfather Sparrow's Rain Songs, Grizzly Bear Songs, Hare's Song to Grasshopper, Hare's Song to the Wągepanįgera, Hare's Song to Wildcat, Hawk's Song, Heroka Songs, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Little Fox's Death Song, Little Fox's Death Song (for the Warpath), Little Fox's Tail Song, Love Song I (female), Love Song II (female), Love Song III (female), The Mouse Song, Nightspirit Songs, The Quail's Song, Redman's Song, Slow Song of the Heroka, Soldier Dance Songs, Song for Calling the Buffalo, Song from the Water, Song from the Water (King Bird), The Song of Bluehorn's Sister, Hocąk Text — The Song of Sun Caught in a Net, The Song of the Boy Transformed into a Robin, Song of the Frog to Hare, Song of the Thunder Nestlings, The Song of Trickster's Baby, Song to Earthmaker, The Song to the Elephant, The Sun's Song to Hare, Three Warrior Songs, Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 1), Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 2), Turtle's Four Death Dance Songs, Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 1), Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 2), Twins, Ghost's Song (The Two Brothers), Twins, the Songs of Ghost and Flesh, Twins, Song of the Father-in-Law, Victory Song, Wailing Song, Warrior Song about Mącosepka, What a Turtle Sang in His Sleep, Wolf-Teasing Song of the Deer Spirits. Songs in the McKern collection: Waking Songs (27, 55, 56, 57, 58) War Song: The Black Grizzly (312), War Song: Dream Song (312), War Song: White Cloud (313), James’ Horse (313), Little Priest Songs (309), Little Priest's Song (316), Chipmunk Game Song (73), Patriotic Songs from World War I (105, 106, 175), Grave Site Song: "Coming Down the Path" (45), Songs of the Stick Ceremony (53).


1 David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 9.

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 198.

3 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 201; and "Deer Clan Origin Myth," in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3899 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Winnebago III, #19a: 1-13. All names were collected by Radin unless otherwise noted (as below).

(F) Thomas Foster, Foster's Indian Record and Historical Data (Washington, D. C.: 1876-1877) vol. 1, #1: p. 4, coll. 3-4.

4 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 198.

5 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 199-201. "Deer Clan Origin Myth," 1-13.

6 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 201.

7 Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian (Norwood: The Plimpton Press, 1930) 19: 159-160.